Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May 2002, page 90


Muslim-American Activism

AMGPJ Press Conference on Middle East Crisis

As Israel began stepping up its invasions of Palestinian towns, American Muslims for Global Peace and Justice (AMGPJ) called a March 8 press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Perhaps because of the last-minute nature of the conference—but more likely because of the unyielding U.S. media stance on the situation—the audience barely outnumbered the panelists. Nonetheless, after a welcome from Raeed Tayeh of AMGPJ, the conference convened with Dr. Phil Wogaman, pastor of the United Methodist Church and spiritual adviser to former President William Clinton. Wogaman began his talk with disclaimers to the effect that he was not speaking on behalf of President Clinton or any group, but only for himself. He also cautioned the audience that he was not an expert, just enough acquainted with the Palestinian-Israeli situation to be very concerned.

Wogaman then addressed four key issues. First, he remarked that the human carnage had become unspeakably evil and that both parties bore the responsibility for seeking peace. Second, he called on Arab countries to endorse the Saudi peace plan, contending that the U.S. and the EU would then also endorse the plan, thereby pressuring Israel into accepting it. Wogaman’s third point was that the U.S., as the leader of the war on terrorism, must exercise more leadership, greatly expanding peace brokering efforts in the Middle East. Finally, he argued that Palestinians and Israelis alike have everything to gain from peace and everything to lose from not achieving peace. Wogaman cautioned, however, that both sides must be more willing to compromise and that Americans must support and encourage compromise.

Next to speak was Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, the Muslim chaplain of Howard University and the chair of government relations of the Muslim Alliance of North America. Also offering a disclaimer, that he did not speak for Howard University, Abdul-Malik subtly reminded the audience of Dr. Sami Al- Arian, the tenured University of South Florida professor fired allegedly for not making such a disclaimer. He added that the Howard dean had told him to say that. Abdul-Malik pointed out that the current conflict had been initiated by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon because it was in Sharon’s strategic political interests to create a crisis—“a police insecurity state,” as Abdul-Malik termed it—to make people rally ’round the flag before fanning the flames. This was a common strategy of leaders to rally patriotism, the imam dryly mentioned—a thinly veiled reference, perhaps, to President George W. Bush.

Abdul-Malik agreed with Wogaman, however, that nations not directly involved in the dispute must support efforts at peace, specifically by creating a safe environment in which Palestinians would be free to negotiate. In addition, he maintained that Israeli apartheid perpetrated on Palestinians was similar to South African apartheid, and that divestiture should be an integral part of the campaign to influence Israeli policy. Abdul-Malik called on activists, industry, and people of faith to divest, to institute a moratorium on entertainers appearing in Israel, and on all pilgrimages to holy sites. The Muslim cleric challenged those concerned about the situation to stop relying on the U.S. government to take the lead, but to take it upon themselves. While saying that the Israeli scorched earth policy must end, however, Imam Abdul-Malik also reminded the Palestinian people that they must be able to state that they had safeguarded the rights of Israelis. To that end he quoted from the Qur’an, saying, “Do not let your hatred of a people cause you to be unjust.”

The day’s final speaker was Eugene Bird of the Council for the National Interest, who questioned if those concerned could expect results from the U.S. government. Contending that the Bush administration’s policy responses to escalation had not been early enough, effective, nor fair, Bird said, however, that he did expect the administration to change its policy because it was not conducive to aiding their war on terrorism. Bird suggested that the U.S. would be rescued by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and other friendly Arab states, but cautioned that such change would not come about quickly.

Sara Powell

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